In the Footsteps of St. Maria Goretti

There are three sites related to the life of St. Maria Goretti that can be visited today: Corinaldo, Colle Gianturco and Nettuno.

The birth house of St. Maria Goretti can be visited in the farmland in an area called Pregiagna. Here, Maria Goretti was born and lived the first six years of her life.
The birth house of St. Maria Goretti can be visited in the farmland in an area called Pregiagna. Here, Maria Goretti was born and lived the first six years of her life. (photo: Bret Thoman / National Catholic Register)

St. Maria Goretti was a simple farm girl who was murdered on July 6, 1902. She is a saint and is considered a martyr of purity. Refusing to give in to the licentious desires of attacker, Alessandro Serenelli stabbed her to death. Her story captivated the hearts of the faithful in a powerful way. Not only had she forgiven her assailant, she was disturbed that he would go to hell for what he did to her.

Maria Goretti was born on Oct. 16, 1890, in the central Italian village of Corinaldo. Her parents, Luigi and Assunta, were poor farmers. As was the case for so many Italian families in that era, when Maria was 6 years old, the Gorettis were forced to migrate. They went to work on an estate near a city called Paliano in an area known as the Agro Romano. 

There, they came into contact with a father and son named Giovanni and Alessandro Serenelli, with whom Luigi began to collaborate in the fields.

After Giovanni argued with the landlord, they were forced to emigrate even farther, this time to the notorious area south of Rome: the Pontine Marshes. This area was known for lawlessness and banditry. Worse, its elevation below sea level rendered it swampy making it a haven for the spread of malaria. 

Indeed, two years after they arrived, Luigi fell victim to malaria and died. Now, Assunta had to provide for her five children alone. While Assunta assumed her husband’s work in the fields, Maria voluntarily took over the household chores and looked after her younger siblings.

After Luigi’s death, Alessandro began making advances toward Maria. The first two times, she resisted and he left her alone. The third time, however, he had made up his mind what he would do if she did not give in. He used an awl — a long, pointed, spike-shaped farm tool used to punch holes in wood or pick ice — and placed it behind a chest near the door. 

Alessandro Serenelli took a break from driving the wagon to thresh fava beans and went up into the house. He asked Maria to come inside. When she refused, he grabbed her and pulled her in. When she refused to give in to his desires, he became enraged. He stabbed Maria Goretti 14 times in the abdomen and torso. He later testified that he did so “as if beating corn.”

Maria was taken by horse and carriage to a hospital in Nettuno, all the while concerned for the state of Alessandro’s soul. She continually cried out, “Why? Alessandro? Why? You’ll go to Hell!” 

The doctors attempted surgery, but to no avail. Maria confessed, received Communion, and was anointed with the Last Rites. In an important moment, the priest asked Maria if she forgave her attacker. She said that she did and that she wanted him to be with her in heaven. Maria died of septic peritonitis and internal bleeding.

Alessandro was sentenced to 30 years in prison. After three years, Maria Goretti appeared to him in a dream. She was picking flowers from a basket and dropping them on the ground. This began a dramatic conversion in his soul. 

After he was released, his first act was to go to Assunta and ask her to forgive him. She did so. He later became a lay associate in a Capuchin Franciscan friary where he lived like the friars, though he did not take vows. He worked as a gardener and handyman. He died in the Capuchin infirmary in Macerata in 1970.

Maria was beatified in 1947 and canonized in 1950. Her mother, Assunta, attended both ceremonies in Rome. This was the first time a mother attended the canonization of a child.

The story of Maria Goretti is one of extraordinary virtue, the power of forgiveness, and that of redemption — regarding her attacker. She is the Patron Saint of Chastity, teenage girls, youth, victims of rape and forgiveness. Her feast is celebrated on July 6.

Today, there are three sites related to the life of St. Maria Goretti that can be visited: Corinaldo, Colle Gianturco and Nettuno.

 

Corinaldo

Corinaldo is a charming hilltop village and boasts the title as one of “Italy’s most charming towns.” It features a well-preserved theater that still hosts shows, handsome 14th-century walls, and characteristic red brick buildings and churches. Beyond the cultural aspect of Corinaldo, it is clear the city has a special link to St. Maria Goretti. Her face and name are everywhere. 

Near the main square in the center of town is the Sanctuary of St. Maria Goretti, which houses the tombs of Maria Goretti’s mother and Alessandro Serenelli. There is also a relic of Maria’s arm.

Not far away is the Church of San Francesco (St. Francis). Here, Assunta and Luigi exchanged their wedding vows. In the rear of the church, to the right, is the baptismal font in which Maria was baptized the day after her birth. There is a lovely painting of St. Maria Goretti as well as a sculpture of her.

Lastly, the birth house of St. Maria Goretti can be visited in the farmland in an area called Pregiagna. Here, Maria Goretti was born and lived the first six years of her life. There is something poignant about the setting of the farmhouse in Pregiagna. It’s almost as if one can sense the presence of Maria Goretti. It seems that Assunta or Luigi, or Maria holding the hand of one of her siblings will appear at any moment, with a smile, and welcome us to their home, which is pictured at the top of this article.

The small, two-story, red-brick building is well-preserved and left largely the way it was at the beginning of the last century. Pilgrims can visit the lower floor — once used for storage and farm animals — and the upper floor consisting of the kitchen and two bedrooms:

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The birth house of St. Maria Goretti is well-preserved and left largely the way it was at the beginning of the last century. Pilgrims can visit the lower floor — once used for storage and farm animals — and the upper floor consisting of the kitchen and two bedrooms, one of which is seen here.(Photo: Bret Thoman)


Colle Gianturco

Colle Gianturco is the second site where Maria Goretti lived, and the least known. It is located about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the historic hill city of Paliano. What is left of the community where the Goretti family lived is a cluster of ruined buildings. The farmhouse where Maria lived is missing the door, and the roof has collapsed:

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Colle Gianturco is the second site where Maria Goretti lived, and the least known. It is located about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the historic hill city of Paliano. What is left of the community where the Goretti family lived is a cluster of ruined buildings. The farmhouse where Maria lived is missing the door, and the roof has collapsed.(Photo: Bret Thoman)

There is currently a project spearheaded by the municipality of Paliano to restore some of the ruined buildings here and make them into a type of museum, or place of devotion, for pilgrims. The Colle Gianturco site would complete the St. Maria Goretti pilgrimage circuit. Judging from the condition of the buildings, this will be a big project.

 

La Cascina and Nettuno

The last site where St. Maria Goretti lived is where her martyrdom took place. The farmhouse, known as the Cascina Antica, is well-preserved. Pilgrims can visit the bedrooms and the kitchen:

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This site is where St. Maria Goretti’s martyrdom took place. The farmhouse, known as the Cascina Antica, is well-preserved. Pilgrims can visit the bedrooms and the kitchen.(Photo: Bret Thoman)

However, the most powerful site is just inside the door. On the floor is a bronze high relief statue of St. Maria Goretti lying wounded. There is a small fence around it. This is where she was murdered:

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On the floor in La Cascina is a bronze high relief statue of St. Maria Goretti lying wounded. There is a small fence around it. This is where she was murdered.(Photo: Bret Thoman)


Nettuno is just 10 kilometers (6 miles) away. The first site related to Maria Goretti is the “Tenda del Perdono” (the Tent of Pardon). Here, Maria Goretti had mercy on her killer and forgave him just before dying. It has been converted into a chapel. There are images and statues of Maria on the walls and around the chapel, as well as letters from mothers and children asking for intercessions:

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The first site related to Maria Goretti is the “Tenda del Perdono” (the Tent of Pardon) in Nettuno. Here, Maria Goretti had mercy on her killer and forgave him just before dying. It has been converted into a chapel. There are images and statues of Maria on the walls and around the chapel, as well as letters from mothers and children asking for intercessions.(Photo: Bret Thoman)

A delightful walk south along the Tyrrhenian Sea and through the old town of Nettuno leads to the Basilica of Our Lady of Graces and St. Maria Goretti. Built originally to house an important statue of Our Lady, it now houses the remains of St. Maria Goretti:

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In the old town of Nettuno stands the Basilica of Our Lady of Graces and St. Maria Goretti. Built originally to house an important statue of Our Lady, it now houses the remains of St. Maria Goretti.(Photo: Bret Thoman)

Maria Goretti is interred in the crypt. Her remains are conserved within a plastic mannequin, vested with a white dress with a blue sash. Her eyes are closed, as if sleeping, and she holds a rosary in her right hand:

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Maria Goretti is interred in the crypt in Nettuno. Her remains are conserved within a plastic mannequin, vested with a white dress with a blue sash. Her eyes are closed, as if sleeping, and she holds a rosary in her right hand.(Photo: Bret Thoman)

There is something moving about visiting the sites where the saints lived and prayed. To see with one’s own eyes what they saw, hear what they heard, touch what they touched allows us to know them more intimately. Through their lives, the saints are powerful testimonies to the truth and love of God. 


Bret Thoman’s book, St. Maria Goretti: A Journey into Forgiveness and Redemption, is available in paperback and eBook on Amazon.